by Dan Swanson
Jim Chisholm was nearly deafened by the instant clamor of collision warnings and alarms. High-speed collisions were the perhaps the most dangerous nemesis of spaceships, and all of the contingencies, safeguards, and backups provided by the Galactic Patrol scientists, engineers, and shipbuilders came instantly online, or sluggishly online, or, in some cases, never came online at all.
The measures that never worked were nowhere near as damaging as those that failed, often spectacularly, in their first usage in a thousand centuries. The anti-collision energy shield, which normally drew minimal power as it swept meteors from the ship’s flight path in space, suddenly flared to full strength. The power draw was too much for the fragile ancient components, and the shield generator exploded, utterly destroying one of the ship’s power plants and a dozen nearby compartments. Auxiliary maneuvering engines roared to life, attempting to bend the collision course away from the planet’s surface. The ship abruptly accelerated sideways, and started to shudder violently like a paint can being shaken in the hardware store as the engines powered up unevenly, with some stuttering and dying, and others jumping to full power regardless of the control settings. The pearly glow of Jim’s power enveloped and protected him, and Vic Valor’s invulnerability was proof against this battering, but anything inside the ship that wasn’t fastened down was thrown against the bulkheads.
Jim was frantically sending mental commands to the ship. Turn off the alarms! Shut down all malfunctioning systems! Main engines to full reverse! The violent shuddering mostly died away, and the heroes felt the deceleration building up. “We’re changing course, but not enough!” Jim shouted, pointing at an instrument that was plotting their path. They could see the course starting to bend, but it still hit the surface.
“I’ve cancelled gravity beneath us,” Valor added calmly. “But inertia is our main enemy now, not gravity!”
“Holy spit — they’re shooting at us!” Jim snapped in disgust as the tele-viewer showed something streaking up from the city toward them.
“Incoming missile alert! Incoming missile alert! Impact in fourteen seconds,” they were warned by the computer.
Shut up! screamed Jim inwardly, mentally commanding the computer. “Vic, do we have any shields left?”
Vic Valor stared intently at the screen for an instant, with visual sensors that provided him with something akin to telescopic vision, then turned his concentration back to saving the ship. “I don’t think it’s necessary, Jim. That’s not a missile — it’s a person.”
While they both fought desperately against the implacable force of inertia for the life of their ship, they watched the flying figure pass beneath the cruiser, and then they felt the nose start to lift. Jim switched the monitor to an external camera on the bottom of the hull, and they could see that the green-clad flier, now recognizable as a medium-sized humanoid, was straining to lift the nose of their ship on his shoulders, much as the mythical Atlas was supposed to have lifted the world. The plotted path on the monitor gradually changed a little more, but it wasn’t enough, and they were out of time. They were already hundreds of miles past the mysterious city, and the Tiak Avenger did a high-speed belly flop into the green surface below them. The cacophony of noises that filled the ship at impact temporarily overwhelmed both heroes, and for long instants, neither could do anything more than hang on.
If the surface had been solid, they probably would have died. As it was, they crashed into the highest layer of foliage in a deep, dense jungle that covered virtually the entire planet. Foliage, branches, and even the massive trunks of centuries-old trees snapped like twigs, and the Patrol cruiser slid through the jungle, crushing everything in its path. Nothing living could damage the ultra-hard ceramic of the hull, probably the toughest material that highly advanced civilization of the past had ever produced. Still, forcing its way through the dense jungle eventually slowed the ancient ship to a halt at the end of a mile-long valley of crushed and shattered vegetation.
The two heroes had come through the crash in better shape than the inside of the ship itself. Strobe launched himself toward the nearest airlock, hoping to find out what had happened to the flying hero who had helped save them. Valor stayed behind to shut down anything that was still operational and start damage control.
Jim immediately noted a strange green cast to everything, and he looked to the sky to see that the local sun was a pale green. He saw movement in the jungle nearby and was stunned to see that vines were already growing out of the edges of the shattered vegetation, seeking to reclaim the empty canyon created by the crashing Tiak Avenger. New plants were sprouting, eagerly taking advantage of their access to the sunlight, and runners were already covering the downed vegetation, insinuating roots into the dead and dying foliage, and dissolving it with acid sap. Competition for survival in this all-encompassing jungle was brutal and ruthless.
Although Jim flew to the front of the ship, he held out little hope — the mysterious hero must have been crushed between the vast mass of the ultra-hard hull and the pile of shattered wood and other vegetable matter bulldozed up by the ship. Where the dead vegetation touched the hull of the Tiak Avenger, still superheated from air friction, it flashed into flames, but the fires went out quickly. Where the questing vines touched the hull, they also burst into flames, but instantly spit out a stream of sap, which bubbled up into foam and extinguished the flames.
Built-in fire extinguisher! Jim thought. He noticed a bunch of green balloons, rising out of the jungle on the upwind side of the living trench. They floated toward the ship, each trailing a very fine vine behind it. This jungle wanted the trench back, badly.
Hearing someone shouting, he turned toward the rear of the ship. The green-clad native hero had somehow survived, after all, though his torn and tattered costume showed that he hadn’t completely escaped the crash. Although he was still more than two football fields away, Jim could hear him clearly. He couldn’t understand a word, but the native’s tone was clear — he was shouting a warning of some kind.
“The glove is a universal translator,” Vic Valor reminded him through the Galactic Patrol communicator Jim was wearing. Jim commanded the glove to translate the shouts, but he still couldn’t understand.
“Must be a language the Patrol didn’t know,” Jim responded wryly. That was one more change the Lord of Order hadn’t expected. Pretty soon he would have to realize that a tiak was a long time, especially when dealing with mortals.
Jim remembered when he had commanded the glove to read Iredok’s mind. He didn’t need this man’s whole history, though. “Read his mind to learn the language, and then translate for me.” A few seconds later, the shouts started making sense.
“The jungle is incredibly dangerous. It will eat you and bury your ship! You must escape quickly before it destroys you!” He pointed his hands at the encroaching balloons, and each balloon he aimed at collapsed and fell, draping the thin vines across the hull. There were some muffled explosions farther back in the foliage, and dozens of football-sized projectiles were flying through the air toward Jim and the stranger. The flying hero aimed at these, and some of them exploded. Jim created a glowing white tennis racket, which started swatting these projectiles away. Still, some of them got through and exploded on the seemingly invulnerable skin of the native flier and Jim’s energy-shield.
“Vic, we need to get out of here. This jungle is attacking us, and it’s dangerous! Can you move the ship, or am I going to have to carry it?” He wasn’t at all sure that he could carry something that big, but he would have to try.
Thicker vines were starting to climb up the web of thinner vines that were now draped over about a third of the hull. They were exuding sap, which quickly burned away any organic debris, then started dissolving the hull paint — paint designed by the Galactic Patrol to stand up to space, takeoff and reentry, and all known planetary environments. Fortunately, the ceramic hull itself seemed proof against the corrosive sap.
“I’ve got the hull shield working. Move away!” Valor warned. The hull shield was a powerful force-field that formed itself microns above the surface of the hull. It had the capability to deliver a powerful energy blast to anyone on the hull, and was primarily designed to help repel boarders. The discharge vaporized all the plants that were within an inch of the hull, and the Tiak Avenger instantly lifted from the planet. “It will take hours before we can do that again. A couple of auxiliary atmospheric engines are still working; barely enough to lift us out of reach. I don’t know how long they’ll last. Ask your friend if there’s anywhere we can go on this planet that’s safe.” Jim heard an explosion in the background. “Damn! The hull shield generator just melted.” Jim had never heard the ancient Lord of Order swear before.
Strobe flew into the airlock, followed by the native hero as the Tiak Avenger lifted slowly out of range of the deadly voracious jungle below. A few seconds later, Jim and the stranger joined Valor in the control room.
With the glove now translating for Valor as well, the native spoke. “The only safe place on the planet is the city! If I could use your radio, I’ll let them know we are coming so we don’t start a panic.” Now that he had time for closer examination, Jim was stunned to realize this powerful native hero was a teenage boy.
“My name is Power Boy. Sorry your welcome to Juneo was so violent. But that’s pretty much what we deal with every day here.”
“I’m Jim Chisholm, and this is Vic Valor. Glad to see you alive.” Jim extended his hand. The gesture must have been known on Juneo, as Power Book shook hands with both of them. “I was sure you had been crushed in the crash!”
“It would take a lot more than that,” Power Boy replied casually. “But I got brushed off by the first Senoita tree. Nothing more I could have done, anyway.”
“Does everyone on this planet have super-powers?” Valor asked the teenaged hero.
“Just me. If we all did, maybe we’d have a chance against the jungle.” He paused, looking each of the Earth heroes directly in the eye. “Look, do you think you could teach me to build that weapon you just used to free your ship? We need all the help we can get.”
Before Jim could agree, Valor spoke up. “We’ll do what we can to help you and your people. Why don’t you tell us more about Juneo?”
The Tiak Avenger floated well above the range of the deadly jungle. With most of her engines disabled, it would take a couple of hours to drift back to the city. It was a good time to gather more information about their current situation.
“Not sure what to tell you. The jungle’s overrun every other city on Juneo except for Ralzen’s Forge, where we’re headed now. Sooner or later, the jungle adapts to anything we throw at it. Your weapon might give us a couple more years.” He sounded very dejected.
“Even after seeing it, it’s a little hard to believe how deadly your plants are,” Jim commented. “I’ve seen killer monsters who weren’t nearly as deadly.”
Power Boy shook his head in agreement. “I guess it wasn’t always like this. A long time ago, the sun was yellow, and the plants were tame. When it turned green, the jungle got out of control. At least, that’s what the history books say!”
“I was wondering about that,” Jim replied. “I never heard of a green star before.”
“Almost every star emits light of almost every color,” Valor said. “Red stars emit red light much more strongly than any other color, blue stars emit more strongly in the blue. There are stars that emit most strongly in the green, but the human eye’s frequency response is lowest in the green. So, to human eyes, stars that emit most strongly in the green appear to be white.” Jim had noticed that Valor occasionally dropped into a lecturing mode that reminded him of one of his most boring college professors. He figured it was an expression of the Marnu part of his personality. “For a star to appear green to a human, it must be emitting extraordinarily strongly in the green. This is something well outside the normal process of stellar evolution.” He turned to the young hero. “Do you know when the sun changed from yellow to green?”
“It was about one-hundred-thousand years ago, I think. Why?” Power Boy replied.
“Wow! Just about the time the Galactic Patrol was destroyed!” Jim noted. “Do you think they’re related?”
“An interesting coincidence, at least,” was all the answer Valor gave.
“I’ve always wondered if the sinking of Lemuria on Earth was somehow related to what happened here. Both disasters happened at around the same time,” Power Boy mused.
“How do you know about Earth and Lemuria?” Jim asked, stunned.
“Why, I was born in Lemuria.”
“I would have guessed you were about sixteen,” Jim laughed. “You’re not a Lord of Order, are you? And how did you get here from Lemuria?”
Using his super-vision, Power Boy quickly gauged the distance to Ralzen’s Forge. “I guess we have time for the story. It’s pretty unbelievable, even to me. But first, give me a moment…”
Power Boy looked like an average teenage boy. He was around five feet, seven inches tall, gawky, and not very graceful, as if he was still getting used to his last growth spurt, with short, curly red hair and freckles. Searching the tatters of his yellow cape, he smiled in satisfaction as he opened a pocket and pulled out something that looked like a green golf ball. His figure suddenly blurred, then became solid again, and his costume was restored. He was mostly wearing dark green boots and a skintight, long-sleeved top, with a green loincloth, dark orange tights, and a yellow turban and cape. The turban sported a large red jewel, and there was a mostly triangular red insignia on his chest. A yellow utility belt completed the outfit. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Although a version of this character exists on Earth-Two, the original character appears on Earth-One, as seen in “The Power-Boy from Earth,” Superboy #52 (October, 1956).]
“I always carry a number of spare costumes,” he told the Earth heroes. “Though I seem to be invulnerable, Juneon science hasn’t quite come up with fabrics that hold up to the dangers I regularly face.”
Sitting down at one of the empty control stations, he began his story.
Long ago, a great disaster wiped out a great, highly advanced civilization on a distant planet known by its inhabitants as Earth, when the continent of Lemuria was swallowed by the ocean. A brilliant eccentric scientist, Oria of Mestoron, had predicted the disaster, but her warnings were ignored by the ruling council, and she was mocked by the general populace.
Oria and her husband, Leus, realized it was too late to save their own lives, but they were determined to save their two-year-old son, Taleus. There would be no place on Earth where the baby would be safe. The sinking continent would trigger a global epidemic of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the sinking continent would unleash tidal waves and tsunamis that would inundate most of the other continents. The dust, smoke, and water vapor thrown into the atmosphere by these natural disasters would trigger a nuclear winter and an ice age. Humanity would be reduced to living in caves for many thousands of years — if it could survive at all. Fortunately, Leus, a noted astronomer, suggested an alternative — the asteroid Juno.
Through his super-powerful telescope, Leus had seen a city on the surface of the third-largest asteroid. The inhabitants appeared to be humans, and the technology appeared to be at about the early internal combustion level — in other words, not as advanced as Lemuria, but certainly better than the almost-certain death their son would face anywhere on Earth.
Using advanced materials and technology Oria had created, the two Lemurians labored together to build a small rocket. To save the weight and space required by life support equipment, their young son would make the trip in suspended animation. All this was known from written diaries the two scientists had loaded into rocket with their son.
After the successful launch, things had gone wrong. Nobody knew why the small rocket had missed Juno, or how it had somehow crossed interstellar space to reach Juneo instead. There, instead of being discovered shortly after it reached the planet, the rocket fell into jungle, where it was buried by the vegetation and remained undiscovered for a thousand centuries.
Some fifteen Earth years ago, a native scientist was testing a new plant-destroying weapon while investigating an anomaly in Juneo’s magnetic field. The new weapon had charred the jungle down to bare soil, and the anomaly turned out to be the partially buried rocket containing Taleus. The child revived as soon as he was exposed to the air, and the weapons scientist and her husband adopted the infant. His amazed parents quickly discovered that the boy had super-powers. This boy, of course, had grown up to become the Juneon super-hero known as Power Boy.